Monday, August 20, 2007

The Field Is Set

The City Council may be “dark” during August, but the political scene is pretty active anyway. Over the past few weeks, a lot of prospective City Council candidates have been out there trying to put campaigns together. Now that the filing deadline is past, the field is set. Nine candidates will be running this year for three seats on the council, including all three incumbents. You can break the field down into four categories: the incumbents; veteran challengers, newcomers, and “the gadfly”.

Overall, I have to say that I’m looking forward to the campaign. I’d say everybody has
something to contribute, and the candidate debates should be both informative and fun. I’ll post the schedule as it evolves.

The Incumbents

All three incumbents – Carl Morehouse, Christy Weir, and I – are running for re-election, and we have all endorsed each other.

It’s unusual for all the incumbents to seek re-election, but Christy and I are only finishing our first term and Carl is finishing his second. Carl is finishing up his two-year term as mayor and Christy is finishing up as deputy mayor. (Mayor and deputy mayor are selected by the council for two-year terms after each election.)

This is only the second time in the last seven elections that all the incumbents have chosen to run. The last time was 2001, when Brian Brennan, Donna DePaola, and Sandy Smith – all finishing their first terms – ran for re-election, along with Jim Monahan, who had already served God-knows-how-many terms.

It’s also unusual for incumbents to lose. The only recent incumbent defeated was Donna D. in 2001. Before that you have to go all the way back to 1993 to find an incumbent who was defeated.

Veteran Challengers

Three veteran candidates are running again – Doug Halter, Jerry Martin, and Brian Lee Rencher.

Doug Halter is a longtime community activist – a guy who’s energetic, passionate, and committed. A lot of people would say Doug is the most viable challenger. He’s run twice before, in 1997 and 1999. He almost won in ’99, when he lost out for the last seat (to Carl Morehouse) by about 500 votes. Since then he’s focused on his businesses and he’s been the chair of the Chamber of Commerce.

Jerry Martin ran a good campaign last time around and wound up as first runner-up, though he was pretty far behind the winners. Jerry’s also a good-hearted guy who has done a lot of positive things for the community. Recently he helped organize a wonderful effort to help out an elderly lady on the Westside whose house needed some renovation. Jerry’s also a favorite of the unions and is likely to get one, maybe two union endorsements.

Brian Lee Rencher has run in every City Council election since 1991. He just barely made the filing deadline this year – he showed up 20 minutes before the deadline, and while he was filing his papers he graciously told me he thought the current council is doing a good job.

A lot of people would put Brian Lee Rencher in the gadfly category, but that would be a mistake. He’s gotten a lot of votes in the last three campaigns, and he runs strong in the western part of the city. (If Ventura stretched only from the Avenue to Seaward, he’d have been elected by now – he always runs in the top three in that part of town.) Brian’s an excellent campaigner and he always raises the level of debate in the campaign. (By the way, most people call him “Brian Lee” but I once asked him what he preferred to be called personally and he said “Brian,” so that’s what I call him.)


This race has attracted two newcomers who seem pretty serious about their campaigns: Lou Cunningham and Mike Gibson.

Lou Cunningham has been around town for a long time. He just retired as a facilities manager from the Oxnard Union High School District, but he’s also been a member of the city’s Mobile Home Rent Review Board (a pretty thankless job) and the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission (which makes decisions about local government boundaries – another thankless job.) He ran for the council in 1991 but got less than 400 voters, finishing second to last (ahead only of Rencher). He’s definitely more serious this time.

Lou seems like a good guy. He’s been sitting through City Council meetings (to the bitter end!) for several months now. I ran into him while he was filing his papers at the City Clerk’s office and he was wearing an American flag tie! Lou appears to be running as a fiscal conservative, but with a “roll up our sleeves” and “common sense’ orientation.

Like Lou, Mike Gibson is a veteran public employee who is running as a fiscal conservative, although his rhetoric is a little more aggressive than Lou’s. I haven’t met Mr. Gibson, who works as the business manager for the Santa Barbara County Parks Department.

He has already written a letter to the editor of the Star criticizing Christy Weir for her supposed opposition to the proposed Wal-Mart on Victoria. (
In his campaign statement (reproduced in Brian Dennert’s blog on the Star web site), Mr. Gibson criticized the current council for supposedly doing nothing on the economic development front to increase city revenues. He states his unequivocal opposition to last year’s Measure P6, which would have increased the sales tax by a quarter-cent to fund public safety. He also says the voters affirmed his view by rejecting Measure P6. I can’t help but note that, although P6 didn’t pass (it required a two-thirds majority), in fact 62% of the voters voted in favor of P6 and only 38% voted against it.

I think the newcomers will contribute a lot to the debate about fiscal and economic issues in the city and that’s part of the reason why I’m looking forward to the campaign.

The Gadfly

Carroll Dean Williams. Need I say more? He also qualified to run for school board. The City Clerk's office told me that if he is elected to both positions, he can actually serve in both capacity. Think that'll happen?

Who Didn’t Run

Mike Tracy, the popular former police chief, flirted with running but decided against it. He definitely would have been a strong candidate if he’s run.

Kimble Ouerbacker, a lawyer who was involved in the Grant Park Cross issue a few years ago, declared his intention to run and raised some money, but then never picked up nominating petitions. Mr. Ouerbacker, whom I’ve never met, is a member of the Ventura County Republican Central Committee. In 2003, he represented the original landowners of the land underneath the Grant Park Cross, who claimed in court (unsuccessfully) that the City had to offer to return the land to them before selling it to a nonprofit conservancy; a few weeks ago, he organized the “Lights on the Cross” event, where many community residents lit up the cross on a Saturday night with their flashlights. Mr. Ouerbacker was the only prospective challenge to file a campaign finance disclosure statement in July. He had raised $2,800, including a transfer from the campaign committee of Paul Kunicki, the conservative member of the county Board of Education from Simi Valley. You can read everybody’s campaign disclosure statements at

And Melody Joy Baker, the deaf, wheelchair-bound homeless vet who ran in 2005, failed to gather enough valid signatures to qualify. (You have to get 20 signatures from registered voters in the City of Ventura to qualify for the ballot.) Melody can be a difficult person and she is sometimes disruptive at public meetings, but I am sorry she didn’t get the signatures. I actually signed her petition because I believe elections are the crux of our democracy and all voices should be heard in our local elections.

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